In my parenting “tool box” there is a very magical instrument. I have used it successfully many times. I don’t want to go all lawyer and legal on you, but it is a contract. Yes, a contract between you and your child! There are many good benefits (I will talk about later) of creating a binding agreement, in writing, between the two of you. First of all, You can have your child create many of the terms. This works well for children of just about any age. A very young child just beginning to write absolutely loves to sign their name to something. A teen or preteen can help determine the consequences for their actions. Imagine someone breaking the contract or not living up to their part of the bargain. Are they going to hold that contract in front of you and say “I shouldn’t have to do this or that just because I came home a little late.” They might, but certainly not without being a bit embarrassed about it. After all, They were the ones that set the “terms” and signed the paper! How does one dispute that? Well, my daughter doesn’t. In fact, my daughter rarely breaks the terms of a contract. Did I mention rarely? Oh, yes I did.
Think about how important a young child will feel by signing their name to a document. Younger children might not completely understand there are repercussions for their actions, but they will quickly learn to hold themselves accountable, especially when they are holding a paper (of which you will also have a copy) that clearly states all of the information/terms. If you do that, you will have to do this. They actually helped write it!
Entering into a contract has a way of instilling and anchoring many good qualities in a young person. It teaches them honesty and integrity, self esteem, self respect, and really helps build character. Contracts create a mindset of being good to your own word by sticking to what you say. My Grandpa always told the grandkids that a person is only as good as his/her word. I learned a lot from that statement and take pride in the fact that when I promise something, I do it. I feel those who know me consider me a trustworthy and honest person. My mom also had something to do with my character. She would make promises all of the time, but would rarely………….uh……well, anyway she taught me integrity in just the opposite way! It’s true that you can’t prevent “stuff” from happening, but entering into a contract with your child can certainly be a tool that will hold them accountable for their actions. It won’t just be just you v.s. them. They will actually take part in the entire process.
Contracts can be used as a preventive measure against a possible negative action. They can be used to stop something from recurring (“last time you did this, remember what happened?”)
A contract can be used in your child’s favor (they have a desire, and I believe a right, to retain at least some control regardless of age) to obtain something they want (“If you let me get a new skateboard, I will do the dishes for the next week and wash your car once a week for the next month”). The possibilities are endless because these agreements can be written any way you want, to fit any number of situations.
One of the great aspects of allowing your child to help create the document is that if they want something very badly they will write out the conditions much more harshly than I would have written! That is always fine with me.
The following is an example of what a parent/child contract might look like: I am allowed to attend Greta’s party under the following conditions/rules: I am to be home at or before 9:30.……I cannot leave the party house at any time……..I will check in with you (call you) at 8:00 (remember, I didn’t write it, she did!). I know that I may be a little upset, disappointed, and maybe angry if I break one of the rules, but agree not to display that anger in front of my parents. If I do (display anger in any way), I will also agree to stay home for the next two weekends!
Parent signature ________________________
Now that is my kind of contract! This is very close to an actual contract my daughter wrote.
Jeff is a contributor to @moderately_decent_moms_